Carrick is a ‘ghost town’ says North Street trader

George and Jean Sharples of Pebbles. Ct19-044tc
George and Jean Sharples of Pebbles. Ct19-044tc

The retail industry in Carrickfergus has been dealt a further blow with the impending closure of two more town centre shops.

Both Pebbles Embroidery and the local Poundstretcher branch will cease trading at the end of March.

Pebbles has had a presence on North Street for 32 years, previously employing between four and five staff at two stores.

Meanwhile, eight jobs are under threat at discount retailer Poundstretcher, which only opened its High Street branch in 2011.

Jean Sharples from Pebbles said she and her husband George, who run the shop, can no longer afford to keep it open.

“We’re both working six days a week and that’s just to cover ourselves; the rates are £100 per week which is just far too high, and then there’s rent on top of that,” she said.

A total of £1.7million was spent to refurbish the town centre as part of the public realm scheme.

The project, which commenced in February 2012, was developed by the Department for Regional Development together with the Department for Social Development and the legacy Carrickfergus Borough Council.

Refurbishment focused primarily on North Street, High Street, Market Place and West Street.

The scheme took just over a year to complete.

However, the move has made little difference in attracting shoppers into the retail heart of the town, Jean believes.

“There’s just not the footfall there to sustain it anymore; it’s like a ghost town,” she added.

“I don’t think the street looks any different than before [the public realm scheme]; that money could have been better spent on bringing rates down. If it keeps going this way, I’d say there’ll be a few more shops closing in the town.”

The impending closures will have a negative effect on the town centre, according to Mid and East Antrim C0ouncillor, Noel Jordan.

“Families were once again hit and this comes on top of many other business closures. I cannot help but feel that the £1.724 million spent in the last five years on public realm projects would have been better spent in reducing the rates,” said the UKIP representative.

He added that these “expensive” projects say a lot about the priorities of the “old parties, while little or nothing is done to stave off job losses and business closures”.

Meanwhile, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council struck a new district domestic rate of 0.3999 pence in the pound at a special meeting last week, along with a district non-domestic rate of 27.9666 pence.